When a friend mentioned her husband was starting a small business during the pandemic, it didn’t sound like a good idea. I figured his timing couldn’t be worse. Well, that was a year ago and I’ve been proven wrong. His business is doing well.
And he’s not alone. Because despite current conditions, there’s been a COVID small business boom. It turns out, when times get tough, people turn to entrepreneurism. As many as 400,000 new businesses started in June 2021 alone.
So turn your marketing back on—you know, the one you cut back during the pandemic recession. Because it’s likely you have new competitors in town. And if you’re just starting your business, it’s time to start marketing.
I get enough referrals. Why bother marketing my small business online?
You can’t rely on referrals forever, unfortunately.
And as we mentioned in our latest post on marketing trends for small business, digital usage has jumped 5 years ahead in just a few months’ time during the pandemic.
Even customers in older demographics are now more comfortable using the internet and doing business online.
It’s safe to say that no matter what age group you’re targeting, your customers are:
- More comfortable than ever with buying/seeking services online.
- Spending more time on social media.
- Using Google to find vendors and research products or services.
The pandemic forced many to buy online for the first time and 75% of them said they’ll continue after things go back to normal.
That’s a lot of new customers you could potentially reach online!
And did we mention that digital marketing is the least expensive marketing available? Let’s get into the steps and tactics that can boost your business.
Online marketing for small business success
Table of Contents
1. Set your goals for Marketing
Setting a goal for your marketing is always the first order of business. You might think it’s obvious or that the goal is to “get sales,” but we need to be more specific.
Many of our clients want to bring in more leads through their website, either by web form or calls for an appointment. But there are other goals as well.
Do you want to show your results, like The Garden District did on Houzz? It’s a great way to build trust in your work and can clearly set you apart from competitors.
Maybe you want to explain how your product/service works so people understand the process and the benefits. Some things could use more explanation. This is the case for Brick & Batten, which explains its virtual home design process on its website, in ads and on social media.
Or perhaps you want to build awareness for your business and get the word out about what you’re doing.
Goals are different for each business, so there’s no single best way to do this. You might even include a combination of the above. It’s based on your needs. See a few examples in our post on social media goals.
2. Find your Target Audience
Your marketing will be much more effective if you find and decide on your target audience first. We don’t mean “buyers over 18” or “anyone who can afford my $100 product.” That’s a scattershot approach and not very effective.
For example, a single woman in her late 20s who rents an apartment isn’t likely to shop for kitchen remodeling. But a couple in their 40s with 2 kids and a $100k+ income might.
Think of their age, location, income, marital status, interests, motivations, and challenges. You also want to find out where they spend their time so you can approach your ideal client in the right places.
If you’re not sure, look at:
- Past customers
- Customers who benefitted most from your product or service
- Fans on your social media accounts
- Fans of your competitors social accounts
- Customer challenges mentioned in competitor reviews
See more tips on determining your target market.
3. Set a Marketing Budget
Setting a budget is one of the most important steps. Unfortunately, it’s an area many find confusing.
Should you pick an amount you’re comfortable spending?
Go with popular trends or what your competitors are doing?
Is it based on a percentage of sales?
We have a post that walks you through setting a marketing budget for a small business and in it we advise using a percentage of gross revenue. But keep in mind that this can also depend on where your business is in its life cycle.
If your business is just starting out, set a higher budget. If your website or branding needs an update, you’ll have to spend more there too.
Remember, your website is your headquarters online. For best results, ALL of your digital marketing efforts should lead back to your website.
Speaking of your website…
4. Assess your website
How is your website working and looking? Your website is important enough to make it a separate line item in your marketing plan.
Because if your ideal customer, let’s call her Lisa, visits your site and can’t find the answers she needs or can’t read it easily on her cellphone, then your website is hurting, not helping.
Lisa doesn’t have much time or patience. She’ll leave in 5 seconds or less if she doesn’t find what she needs. And you know where she’ll go… to your competitor’s website.
Consider what Lisa will find on your competitor’s website:
- An attractive, mobile-friendly design
- A clear description of services
- Packages or pricing
- Easy contact options
- Customer reviews or case studies
- Photos or videos of their work
- An FAQ to answer questions
If you want prospects like Lisa to stay on your site and contact your business, look at reasons to redesign your small business website and make your website a priority.
5. Time to build a marketing strategy for your small business
With your target market and budget in mind, you can take the next step: building a market strategy.
Unfortunately, nearly half of small businesses don’t put together a strategy. Maybe they think they don’t need one or are not sure how to create one.
Read our post on why your business needs a marketing strategy for tips on how to build one. It’s written for contractors but can apply to any business.
A strategy is crucial. Because it’s where you decide the “what” and “where” part of your marketing, i.e. what you will do and where you will spend your money.
Your strategy should answer:
- What is your goal?
- Where does your target audience hang out online?
- Where will you be marketing to get their attention?
- What tactics or techniques will you use to reach them?
- Which tools will you use to carry this out?
- How much money will you budget for it this year?
Once you’ve set your goal and identified your target audience, try to answer the other questions to get a strategy together.
Decide on Marketing Tactics
Part of your strategy will focus on the marketing tactics or techniques you’ll use. This is easier to decide once you figure out where your ideal prospects spend their time.
If you run a service-based business, see our advice on marketing tactics and ideas that should be done first. We also offer marketing ideas for home service businesses.
Marketing tactics include:
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Social media marketing
- Content marketing
- Email marketing
We’ll go into each further one in the next steps, but keep in mind that what you want visitors to do on your site will depend on your goals and tactics.
Where will visitors land on your site?
Each tactic will drive people to your website so they can take the next step closer to your goal. So it’s important to know where you want visitors to land on your site and what you want them to do once they get there.
Where your visitors land can be different for each tactic. It’s not always your home page. You may want to send them to a blog post article or a service page. If they’re coming from an ad, you’ll want them to land a specific page created for that offer. We call this a landing page.
Landing pages work for free offers too. See our post on how to bring in leads with a small business sales funnel.
6. Start with local SEO
“How do I make sure I’m found in Google?” That’s often one of the first questions we hear from small business owners. And our answer is with Search Engine Optimization or SEO.
If you haven’t heard of SEO, it’s the process of improving your website so that it gets more visibility in Google. Because Google expects to see certain things on your website. If it sees them, it will reward you with a higher ranking. If it doesn’t, it’ll be harder to get people to find your site.
This is why small businesses need local SEO. The local aspect is especially important so you can compete and show up in local map results.
Just keep in mind that SEO is a long-term strategy. Google doesn’t act quickly, so it may take 6 months or more to get higher in search results.
7. Set up your email marketing
There are many, many ways email can bring in sales, as we mention in our post on starting an email list for small business.
That’s why it’s one of the most effective tactics in the marketing arsenal. It actually offers up to a $40 return for every $1 spent!
So it’s no surprise we value email highly in our marketing plans. The beauty of it is that it also supports and feeds into other marketing areas. Look for ideas in our piece on email marketing for service businesses.
8. Use content marketing to feed all areas
Content is like cake mix. It can be adapted to make a variety of different cakes and it can feed many.
A blog post or article on your site can be used in your social media posts, email marketing, SEO and even in your ads.
So if you’re asking yourself if your small business really needs a blog, the answer is yes!
See our guide on how to get started:
- Blog Post Ideas for Small Businesses & How to Develop Them – Part 1
- Blog Post Ideas for Small Businesses & How to Develop Them – Part 2
9. Spread your message with social media marketing
Small business owners have a love/hate relationship with social media. They like how easy and free it is, but they also hate how much time it can take to do and to see results.
It can be challenging since social media marketing is a long-term tactic.
But you can see great results from it. Just don’t expect direct sales from a couple of posts. It doesn’t work that way.
Promoting yourself on social media is similar to how you’d sell your business at a friend’s party. If you met someone for the first time, would you give them a hard sales pitch while standing in the living room? No, you’d mention what you do, answer their questions, give them a card and let them come to you.
So social media is a softer sell and more of a way to build trust and educate buyers. It’s also a great way to lure prospects to your website where you CAN pitch them.
We have tips on how to do social media marketing on a budget as well as social media post ideas for contractors and other service businesses.
We can help out as well, since we’ve managed social media for many small businesses. See our social media marketing services.
10. Run ads online for faster leads
In the minds of many entrepreneurs, advertising = $$$$ or mucho dinero.
But this isn’t always the case, despite what you see online. Look at this search result for “how much does it cost to advertise online.”
We’re sure this answer scares many away, but you don’t need to spend $10k a month to run online ads. We’ve seen clients do quite well with much smaller budgets.
In fact, we’ve run ads for amounts ranging from $10 (total) to a few thousand. It all depends on where you run your ads, for how long and how competitive that industry or audience is.
Testing helps too. For a small mobile marketing business, for example, we knew we could reach their prospects on Facebook, LinkedIn and Google. So we tested ads in each.
To give you an idea…
- Their Facebook ads cost about $1 to $3 per click.
- Their Google ads were about $3 to $5 per click.
- Their LinkedIn ads cost $6 to $8 per click.
After assessing results and leads, we realized Google ads were the best option for them. They then decided to run Google ads for a limited budget of $1,000 a month.
You can set a budget and test as well. Want to try ads on Facebook or Instagram? Read about it in our posts: Why You Should Advertise on Facebook, With 2 Caveats or Should You Choose Instagram?
All we’re saying is: don’t rule out advertising because you think it’ll cost too much. Ads can ramp up your marketing by feeding in leads faster than other methods.
Online marketing helps your business grow bigger faster
While it may seem like there are too many options to consider, there’s no denying that even a small marketing effort can boost growth and help you get attention in a crowded marketplace. Focus on building your plan step-by-step and doing some testing along the way to find your marketing sweet spot.
We hope the steps in our guide inspire you to take advantage of the many ways you can market your small business online.
See our list of affordable marketing tools for small business if you want to take these steps yourself.
If you need a little help getting started, see our online marketing services and schedule a call with Kelly.